New Interests Help Older Adults Keep Mentally Active

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I'm Doug Johnson.

Art Workshops in Guatemala offers students a chance to learn about art while experiencing Guatemalan culture And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today in our series about continuing education for older adults we tell about organizations that provide different kinds of learning experiences throughout the world.

Liza Fourre was a professional photographer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She traveled to many countries taking pictures. She fell in love with the people and culture of Guatemala and began living there part of the year.

Eleven years ago she started a program called Art Workshops in Guatemala. She says she is happy she is able to give others a chance for a life-changing experience of living and learning in another culture.

Ms. Fourre believes that when you experience a culture different from your own you expand your world artistically and in other ways. She says the goal of Art Workshops in Guatemala is to open peoples' eyes to another way of living.

The program offers workshops in weaving, photography, art and culture. Some of the teachers are local. For example, a native woman teaches backstrap weaving, a Mayan Indian tradition. Others are expert writers, artists or photographers who want to help people gain new skills while learning about Guatemala.

Most of the art workshops are held in Antigua, a small, beautiful city. The Spanish built the city in the highlands of Guatemala in the fifteen hundreds. Colonial style buildings are painted in soft colors of green, blue and pink.

The workshops usually are eight days long. The cost includes a room in a small central hotel and a big breakfast every day. The cost also includes transportation to other places in Guatemala including Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by volcanoes.

Liza Fourre organizes fifteen to twenty workshops each year. There are no more than ten people in each workshop. They get a chance to meet and interact with people who live in Guatemala.

Many people who take the workshops are older than sixty. Some are in their eighties and nineties. Ms. Fourre says the older adults who take workshop classes are very independent. They do not like to travel with a large group. They want to experience a different culture, not just travel through a country. They are retired and have time to learn a new skill, or improve an old one.

A woman in her early sixties was thinking about retiring from her job as a writer. She found out about Art Workshops in Guatemala. She had a new camera and wanted to learn more about photography. So she signed up for a workshop where she would spend days taking pictures of the light and color of Guatemala.

There were only a few people in the class. The members of the group worked separately in the early morning hours. They photographed the colorful buildings and the activities in the market and central plaza area. They met for breakfast with members of a larger workshop group. These people were learning about different kinds of weaving done by the native people of Guatemala.

During the middle of the day, the photographers met to discuss methods and look at the pictures they had taken the day before. Later they took more pictures of the buildings in Antigua or the villages around Lake Atitlan. They also photographed the native people in their colorful traditional clothes.

Suggestions and advice from the teacher and other students helped the beginning photographer improve her work. The effects of the workshop have lasted. Now that she is retired, she is spending time producing photographs instead of words to express the way she sees the world. And she has returned to Guatemala to learn more about the people and their culture.

Many people who retire from their jobs immediately start to make plans to travel. They now have the time and energy to explore new places. Yet many older adults are looking for more than just visiting famous places in a country. They want to experience another culture and learn another language. So they sign up for a language immersion school to learn a language where it is spoken.

AmeriSpan is an organization that offers language learning in many different countries. It began in nineteen ninety-three offering a few Spanish classes through established language schools in Latin America. It now offers language classes through independent schools in about thirty-five countries, from Arabic in Morocco to Chinese in Shanghai. You can learn by yourself with a teacher or as part of a group. Most classes are four hours a day. Students usually stay for one to four weeks or longer.

Beth Klemick is vice-president of AmeriSpan. Ms. Klemick says older learners are important because they have the time and resources to spend on learning a language. Some of them are considering retiring in another country and want to try living there for a short time. AmeriSpan calls itself a bridge between cultures. It offers a chance for the language learner to stay with a family. During a homestay, students have to continually speak the language they are learning as they eat and spend time with the family. This means people learn the language much faster than if they were only hearing and speaking it in a classroom. It also means that they often become life-long friends with the family members.

Earthwatch Institute students work with scientists on research projects throughout the world

Earthwatch offers people the chance to work with leading scientists in many different areas of the world on environmental projects. It is one of the largest non-profit supporters of research in the world. Its goal is to let people around the world help with research projects so they will support and help educate others about actions needed to protect the environment.

Earthwatch began in nineteen seventy-one. Since then it has supported almost one thousand five hundred projects in about one hundred twenty countries. More than eighty thousand people from hundreds of countries have paid for their own travel and shared in the costs of the research projects. Volunteers pay from a few hundred dollars to more than four thousand dollars to take part in projects that last from two days to twenty-one days.

Philip Johannsen is editor of Earthwatch Institute. He says about twenty percent of Earthwatch volunteers are at least sixty years old. Mr. Johannsen says the older volunteers are interested in all kinds of projects. For example, they take part in teams digging in archeology projects or observing and recording the activities of endangered animals. The research teams include people of all ages from sixteen to more than eighty years old.

Mr. Johannsen says Earthwatch is expecting the number of volunteers to increase as the baby boomers born after World War Two retire. He says there are no limits on the number of people that are needed. Earthwatch Institute is always beginning new research projects as environmental issues develop around the world.

In two thousand six, Earthwatch supported more than one hundred fifty research projects in about fifty countries. Volunteers paid more than four million dollars to support the projects.

Earthwatch volunteers can choose from many different kinds of research throughout the world. Many projects are in Africa. In Kenya, for example, volunteers map where water holes are and test the quality of the water supply used by people and animals. Or they talk to the native Samburu people to find out about their use of plants for medicine and then help identify and record the plants. Or they gather information about the movement and food supply of the black rhinoceros whose numbers have dropped from twenty thousand to five hundred in thirty years.

In Thailand, volunteers dive underwater to help record the condition of the coral reefs in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea.  An archeology project in Thailand involves helping dig up the buried ruins of an ancient settlement.

Earthwatch says about thirty percent of the volunteers return to work on another project. Some have taken part in more than fifty projects. Older adults say that taking part in an active research project is an exciting way to continue learning while doing something that makes a difference in the world.

This program was written by Marilyn Christiano. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Doug Johnson. You can read scripts and download audio of our programs at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Listen again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: New Interests Help Older Adults Keep Mentally Active
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